Called "Kissi pennies," the shape of these forged iron bars is meaningful: the flattened end represents a fish's tail, and the cross piece a "bird's wing," to help it circulate as currency. Blacksmiths who had specialized knowledge regarding the extraction of iron ore and the forging of implements made Kissi pennies.
Money must be durable, portable, divisible, and widely recognized. These "Kissi pennies" have all these attributes. They were used among the indigenous peoples of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone (land of the Kissi peoples) until the mid-20th century, when coins and paper money became the official mediums of exchange. The bars—each of which was worth a penny—were tied together in bundles with a specific value.
- Roslyn A. Walker, Label text, Arts of Africa, 2015.
- National Museum of Africa Art
Learn more about African currency.